Hermann Hates The Movies
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 96 08:58:15 -0700
Subject: Hermann Hates The Movies
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <email@example.com>
HERMANN HATES The Movies
--a direct-to-video column--
Copyright 1996 by Andrew Hermann
WARNING: I am not a conscientous movie critic and therefore don't care if
you haven't already seen it. I give away the ending to "Independence Day"
in this one. You few forntunate souls who've missed it thus far, keep
reading and spare yourselves the pain.
Well, I finally got around to seeing my first summer blockbuster,
"Independence Day," and now I'm CERTAIN they're using microwaves or
mind-altering chemicals in the water supply to sustain in us all the urge
to go out and pay $7.50 a pop to see this dreck. Even I, I seem to recall,
wanted to go see this movie when it first came out. The fact that it took
me two months to get around to it is probably a testament to whatever
lingering vestige of taste and individuality I retain that hasn't been
pounded out of me by the death-ray-wielding, blot-out-the-sun Mothership
known as the American media.
Before we even get to the actual product, i.e. the movie, let's just talk
about what the cinematic experience has become. For the price of six Happy
Meals or a month's worth of cable, you and your date get the privilege of
standing in one long line for all ten movies in the multiplex, being rudely
treated by a sullen teenager in an ill-fitting uniform, who sticks his dirty
forearm deep into the popcorn bin to get you a bag of the stale stuff at
the bottom, then points you toward another sullen teenager, who sullenly
takes your tickets and points you down a long hall, at the end of which is
a room which resembles your living room in size but which has row after row
of cramped, scratchy-fabricked seats squeezed into barely enough space for
two couches and a throw rug. If you're unlucky enough to be at one of those
rare movies that doesn't feature paint-peeling sound effects, you can hear
every candy- wrapper rustle and tubercular cough all night.
In case you arrive early, your local cineplex has other pleasures in store.
Some marketing genius in the last few years has made two not unreasonable
assumptions about movie-goers--one, that they probably don't have much to
talk about, or they wouldn't be going to the movies, and two, that they're
probably dumber than paste, or they wouldn't have just plunked down a
serious chuck of change for a really mediocre night out. The result of
these assumptions is that great lowest-common-denominator conversation
piece, the pre- movie slide show, in which lots of cheesy ads for local
Chinese restaurants and auto service centers are interspersed with moronic
trivia about the movie industry, in the form of memorable quotes ("I knew
you would say that"--Stallone, "Judge Dredd"), and challenging anagrams
("Mot Rueci. Hints: starred in 'Top Gun' and 'Mission Impossible'; name
sounds like 'Snooze'; married to Nicole Kidman"). No one need ever reveal
personal information to their movie date again.
Next come the trailers, which as everyone knows are the highlight of today's
moviegoing experience. If they just put together evenings of trailers and
charged $7.50 to see those, I'd be first in line. They're crisply edited
and loaded with funny one-liners, compelling images, great music, and
tersely constructed plots that are left intriguingly unresolved. The people
in Hollywood making trailers seem to know more about filmmaking than the
Which is too bad, because after the trailers, of course, comes the film.
Talk about a letdown. Assuming you actually wanted to see the movie and
weren't just in search of air conditioning, what you're usually in for is
that great five minutes worth of trailer spread out over two-and-a-half
hours of plodding, maudlin, empty- headed nonsense. Good triumphs over
evil, the guy gets the girl, lots of big cool set pieces are destroyed by
big cool special effects, and lots of fragments of album outtakes by your
favorite alternative bands get played on the soundtrack at high volume, the
better to drown out dialogue more inane than anything you and your date ever
came up with viz-a-viz the pre-movie slide show.
Take "Independence Day," which is already one of the highest grossing films
ever with the best opening day box office takes since blah blah blah. I
don't mean to insult anyone's taste, because after all, I paid good money
to see it, too, but boy did this film suck. Whatever asshole movie critic
called it this generation's "Star Wars" either doesn't think very highly of
this generation or was paid very handsomely to say that.
This is a movie that wastes its first forty minutes introducing lots and
lots of peripheral characters, all of whom are later either killed off or
incorporated into sappy incidental plots that bog down the latter two-thirds
of the movie. This is a movie in which marauding aliens with
fifteen-mile-wide attack saucers, each of which can blow up a major city
every twenty minutes or so, somehow miss a large village of RV's trucking
through the desert AND Will Smith flying a helicopter back into a trashed
army base to rescue his girlfriend. This is a movie in which the federal
government actually has the prescience, when they sink a downed alien
spacecraft two miles below the surface of the earth for top secret research,
to build an escape chute right over the thing in case they ever got it
running again, which of course they do (personally, I would have found it
much more entertaining and realistic had they discovered that the feds built
this gigantic, ultra-secure repair shop around the spacecraft and didn't
leave an opening big enough to get it back out again).
I could go on, but it hardly seems worth the effort. Picking apart
"Independence Day" is like shooting fish in a barrel. Suffice it to say
that I can hardly wait for the sequel, which will undoubtedly be called
something like "Labor Day: The Day We Clean Up." I mean, the aliens
levelled virtually every major city on the planet in this movie! What's
left? Scranton? Pensacola? Is the entire EEC going to huddle together in
Dusseldorf? Some happy ending. I just hope some screenwriting whiz kid in
Hollywood notices that bringing down a fifteen-mile-wide spacecraft full of
exo-skeleton-clad little green men isn't likely to kill them all.
Otherwise, the highlight of part two is going to be Jeff Goldblum figuring
out how to turn alien scrap metal into plumbing.
And by the way, when is Hollywood going to acknowledge that half its box
office is in the foreign market and stop making these rabidly jingoistic
movies? I can sort of see Bob Dole's point (God help me) about the moral
bankruptcy of Hollywood, but he's certainly got nothing to worry about when
it comes to mindless flagwaving. You would think aliens come to blow up
the world would arouse the concern of some other world leaders, but if they
fire any nukes or hatch any retaliatory schemes of their own, "Independence
Day" sure ain't interested. When we finally catch a glimpse of some
non-Americans in the last ten minutes of the film, they're all huddled
together in tents and bomb shelters, where they've been presumably playing
pinochle or something. They certainly haven't been fighting back. "The
Americans have a plan to stop the aliens!" some beturbined bedouin cries
jubilantly. "Well, it's about bloody time," says the token fruity-voiced
UN official. Now the argument could be made that this is a fairly accurate
portrayal of international crisis management--everyone sitting around with
their thumbs up their collective asses, waiting to see what the Americans
will do--but I can't imagine the world at large will take kindly to being
portrayed this way cinematically, especially when what they're lounging
around during here is supposedly nothing less than the Total Annihilation
of All Human Civilization.
And as an American, I can't say I found it particularly reassuring that our
salvation came in the form of a drunken redneck Randy Quaid (at least I
think it was Randy Quaid under all that drunken redneck makeup) whose last
words before he flies a nuke up the aliens' deathray sphincter are, "Up
yours!" It took a crack team of script doctors days to come up with that
line, folks, and they probably got about a hundred grand apiece to do it.
Clearly I'm in the wrong line of work.
The amazing thing is that what it takes to bring together these sub-moronic
filmmakers and their drooling idiot audiences (and I must wipe my own chin
before continuing) is nothing less than sheer genius. The best and
brightest minds of their generation, I'm convinced, are the ones wielding
the death ray up at Mass Marketing Mothership Central. And as the
filmmakers get worse and worse at their jobs (I mean, look at this summer's
so-called blockbusters-- "Eraser"? "Mission: Impossible"? Come on), the
media whiz kids are getting better at theirs. Where the trailer for
"Independence Day" literally brought audiences to their feet cheering, the
movie left the audience I saw it with weary and glassy-eyed. While the
poster campaign gave us lines like, "Warning: Your next stop might not be
there," the movie gave us lines like...well, I can't remember any off the
top of my head, except of course the infamous "Up yours."
So maybe it isn't microwaves or drugged water that's making us pony up for
this mind-numbing sludge. Maybe it's just good old- fashioned American
hucksterism. We are all the children of P.T. Barnum's famous saying.
So there you have it--the modern American moviegoing experience in a
nutshell. Maybe next time you should save yourself five bucks-- fifteen if
you bring a friend--and just bring home a video. Be warned, however:
they're putting trailers for upcoming theatrical releases on videotapes now.
Really good ones. Trailers, that is.
One last thing--whoever you people are who stand up during the credits but
stay at your seats, WILL YOU PLEASE GET OUT OF THE WAY. Believe it or not,
some of us actually want to know where the film was shot, or who did that
weird cover of "I Can't Help Falling in Love," or we just want to scan the
credits for goofy names and job titles ("bug wrangler" is still my all-time
favorite). And of course, most filmgoers from my generation are still
hoping against hope that Matthew Broderick will come on at the end and tell
us when it's over.
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© 1996 Peter Langston